Amazon UK TV review: The Grand Tour Episode 10
James R | On 14, Jan 2017
“I’ve never been here before,” says Jeremy Clarkson, as The Grand Tour pulls into Nashville for its 10th episode. But with nine instalments already under our belt, the background hum of deja vu that set in during last outing is audibly revving its engine.
Again, the opening proves surprisingly gentle, as Clarkson, Hammond and May ease the pedal off the controversy and deliberate offence and instead pay compliments to their host. “Wow!” exclaims Clarkson. “It’s fantastic!” Even his dig at Trump – Nashville, he points out, was named after General Nash. “He kicked the British out, you got independence, and how’s that working out for you?” – is far from full throttle.
If you’re a Top Gear fan hoping for some drama, though, the episode does try to kick things off, from Conversation Street’s detour down Music Disagreement Alley, as Clarkson slates country music and Richard Hammond defends it, only to insult Motown instead. Between Hammond liking folk and thinking ice cream is gay, not to mention his reversion to his old pretend-to-be-shocked-by-Clarkson role, it’s got to the point where their arguments about things that aren’t cars are becoming less and less believable, which means their opinions feel more and more fabricated – it sounds like a minor peeve, but when your show is based on the fun of watching opinionated people being opinionated, you need some consistency for it to be funny. Even an apparent revolt from the audience is obviously staged in a way that is intentional, but still isn’t funny.
All this perhaps wouldn’t be an issue, if we hadn’t been treated to nine episodes of the same thing already. Sure enough, when The American turns up again, or when Clarkson pretends to have stolen the whole show’s crew to film a segment with an Alfa Romeo so Hammond and May can’t, it just feels formulaic.
The footage of the 500 horsepower Giulia Quadrifoglio, of course, is predictably pretty – and that’s no disappointment. But the episode’s centrepiece, however, is enough matter entirely. This hour hinges on the trio shipping out to Barbados to devise their own form of environmental conservation: by creating a new underwater reef to replace the declining natural coral reefs. And so they get some cranes, some car shells and start dumping them in the water. It’s the kind of extravagant prank that plays directly into The Grand Tour’s major distinction from BBC’s Top Gear: its essentially limitless budget. But after the two-part epic in Namibia, we already know the programme has pounds to burn, and while that concept struggled to fill two hours, this one struggles to stay interesting for even one. And Hammond talking about his “big balls” doesn’t help matters.
Some splashing about with jet skis and boats adds in some vehicular variety, while the Celebrity Brain Crash gag is one of their most visually satisfying yet, but this just feels more dull than anything. A programme such as The Grand Tour, which is rooted in its travelogue format, not making a bigger splash with the jaw-dropping Barbados is a sign things aren’t quite right. Perhaps it’s just the novelty value wearing off Amazon’s shiny new toy? Looking back at the old BBC Top Gear, the show was at its most popular in the days when its series were kept to between six and 10 episodes. Would The Grand Tour fare better in bursts of four to six episodes? You can, after all, have too much of a good thing. Or, in the case of this series, too much of some good bits interspersed with other, less good, bits. With three episodes left, recorded in Loch Ness and Dubai, can Amazon switch back into novel gear before Season 1 of its cash cow draws to a close?
The Grand Tour is available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or as part of £79 annual Amazon Prime membership. New episodes arrive at 00.01GMT every Friday for 12 weeks, starting 18th November 2016. For more on how to watch The Ground Tour, click here.